In four years of existence, Abrams ComicArts has produced an impressive library of graphic novels, art books and retrospectives with an eye toward the fine-art tradition of its parent company Abrams Books. Joined by special guests, an overview of its new titles for 2013 was presented Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Editorial director Charles Kochman and senior editor Carol Burrell opened the panel with a brief history of the publisher, which had its beginnings in 1977 and 1981 with two of the first coffee table books on comics, “The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics” and “The Smithsonian Book on Comic-Book Comics” respectively. The success of those books led to several others, and in Spring 2009 came the launch of a proper imprint, with a logo designed by Chip Kidd. Since then, Abrams ComicArts has focused on publishing the masters of comic arts, contemporary creators, and fostering a diversity of voices and talent.
Through a license with The Topps Company, Abrams ComicArts is publishing a number of trading card retrospectives. The latest release, “Bazooka Joe and His Gang,” provides a complete collection of every comic strip starring the iconic characters, a timeline of every iteration of the chewing gum, every prize ever offered and the evolution of Bazooka Joe. They even managed to track down the inspiration for the addition of Bazooka Joe’s eye patch. One surprise was the discovery of a cartoon illustrated by Robert Crumb, the seminal underground comics creator of the 1960s. “This is the first assignment he had, and he hadn’t seen it since he did it in 1965,” said Kochman. “He didn’t remember doing it or remembering that it existed. The only place that you’ll see that is in the book!”
“Good Riddance: An Illustrated Memoir of Divorce” is by Cynthia Copeland, the author of 25 books for adults and kids, many about parenting. Following the discovery that her husband is cheating on her, “this graphic novel memoir shows how she goes from being the perfect suburban wife to a mom who has to raise her kids,” Burrell said. “There’s so much to relate there, whether you’re coming from the kid point of view or the adult point of view, married or not.”
Next up was Darryl Cunningham’s “How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial”. Burrell described it as a “Myth Busters” approach to addressing debates about science denial, climate change, fracking, evolution and more. “The artwork is hilarious, his point of view is quirky.” Kochman added that Cunningham takes great pains to be fair and balanced. “He actually presents both sides, and comes down in the middle a lot of the times,” he said. Another strength Kochman mentioned was that the book presents the facts and then lets the reader draw their own conclusions.
Special guest William Stout was then brought up to discuss his new book “Legends of the Blues,” which contains 100 biographical profiles and illustrated portraits of blues artists, and a 14-track blues compilation CD produced and sequenced by Stout. “It really encapsulates the history of the blues as told through the stories and biographies of 100 musicians that recorded prior to 1920,” Stout said. The cross section runs from Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry to Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Bessie Smith. The book came to be when Shout Factory Records licensed R. Crumb’s “History of the Blues” trading cards for a series of compilation CDs released in 2003. There were several artists Crumb hadn’t covered, so Stout was asked to help them fill out their set. Once he got started, he couldn’t stop. With Crumb’s blessings, he completed 100 drawings and set about researching the musicians’ lives. “I was having the time of my life,” the artist said.
Next, Burrell presented “Raven Girl” by Audrey Niffenegger, a book with text and accompanying illustrations from the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. The titular character is the daughter of a postman and a raven who fall in love. “She’s a raven inside, she’s a girl on the outside,” explained Burrell. “She’s trapped between one and the other,” and the story explores “that feeling of being in the wrong body, being in the wrong place, and what to do, and how to become who she truly is.”
In production for six years, “The Art of Rube Goldberg: A) Inventive B) Cartoon C) Genius” is set for a November release. Goldberg produced 60,000 cartoons during his lifetime, about twice as many as Jack Kirby. Rare video clips of private home movies and test animation from 1910 were played, which captivated the audience. They will be among the bonus material included in the ebook edition of the book. The cover of the book is a movable image produced by Andy Barren, who worked on the automaton for the feature film “Hugo”. In addition to collecting Goldberg’s cartoons of excessively complicated technology that performs simple tasks, the book contains original art, sketches, rare photographs (one of Goldberg with George Gershwin and Groucho Marx), ads featuring Goldberg the celebrity, and more.
A quick look at “Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series” revealed that in addition to the complete collection of 1976 cards, the ads, wrappers and stickers in the set, the book will also contain four new cards created just for the book. “In the original series, there was no card for Sulu, for George Takei,” Burrell said, “and we can’t leave out George Takei, now!”
“Climate Changed” by Philippe Squarzoni will give a personal journey through understanding global warming, weaving in his beliefs about philosophy, movies, and more. The 480-page book looks to be a tour de force on every aspect of the topic without being a cold book on science. Kochman said that these kinds of authoritative books on current event topics have done well for them and explained how this book got his father, who he described as very set in his ways, to reconsider the topic.
Dan Mishkin and Ernie ColÃ³n will reunite for a graphic novel adaptation of The Warren Commission Report, in time for that report’s 50th anniversary next year. The duo previously worked together on “The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation”.
While there was no art to preview, Octavia E. Butler’s seminal book “Kindred” will be adapted into a graphic novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings.
In collaboration with the Herge Museum, Abrams ComicArts will release a book on Tintin that will include unpublished photographs and a focus on the comics. It will be released simultaneously in French and English and will be available at New York Comic-Con.
Laura Lee Gullidge’s young adult graphic novel “Will & Whit” is “about a girl who has a fear of the dark and has an interest in lightbulbs, things mechanical, and trying to figure out how to be enlightened and get over some of her fears,” said Kochman.
“Salem Hyde” by Frank Cammuso is also targeted to younger readers. A young witch teams up with a cat who mentors her in using her magical powers. Galley copies were being offered to kids as a preview.
The final book discussed was “Explorer Book 2: The Lost Islands”. Special guests Kazu Kibuishi and Jason Caffoe explained how the book is a spiritual successor to their “Flight” anthology. Seven artists contributed to the book, including Kibuishi, who was working on the new “Harry Potter” covers during the making of his story. Caffoe, who colors Kibuishi’s “Amulet” series, also contributed a story. Other artists include Raina Telgemeier (“Smile,” “Drama”) and Dave Roman (“Astronaut Academy”), Jake Parker (“Missile Mouse”), and others. Next year, the “Explorer” anthology series will have a third installment, currently in production.
Asked about new work from Reinhard Kleist (“Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness”), Kochman announced that a new book by Kleist titled “The Boxer” would be released this Fall. It’s a true story about a man who survived in a Nazi concentration camp by boxing fellow inmates and fighting for his life. He became a Heavyweight champion and later retired to spend the rest of his life searching for his fiancee, who he was forced to leave behind in Nazi Germany.